The Royal Charter of the Hudson's Bay Company
First page of the HBC Charter
Granted by King Charles II of England, May 2nd, 1670, the Royal Charter gave an exclusive trading monopoly over the entire Hudson Bay drainage basin to "the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson Bay." The Charter comprises seven thousand words of hand-lettered text on five pages of parchment - animal skin, probably calf or deer, according to the scientific analysis - each one 31" x 25". Its clauses outline the rights and obligations of the Company of Adventurers over their new domain, including the right to exploit mineral resources and the obligation to search for the Northwest Passage.
At the time the chartering of monopolistic companies by England, as well as other European powers, had been an established method of trade and territorial expansion for over a hundred years. Serving as the original articles of incorporation of Hudson's Bay Company the Royal Charter also sets forth the framework of the company's governance - by a Committee of seven, headed by the Governor and Deputy Governor - as well as the frequency of elections and meetings. In it the King names his "dear and entirely beloved cousin" Prince Rupert as the Company's first Governor of the territory which shall henceforth be known as "Rupert's Land."
Entry in HBC Grand Ledger for 28 May 1670 showing the cost of obtaining the Charter
The Charter states that the Company was to control all lands whose rivers and streams drain into Hudson Bay - all told an area comprising over 1.5 million square miles, stretching from Labrador in the east as far west as the Canadian Rocky Mountains and well south of the present U.S/Canada border. It represented over 40% of modern day Canada.
Hotly contested over the years, particularly by the North West Company, HBCs main fur-trading rival, the Charter's terms were finally confirmed upon the merger of the two companies in 1821. At that time the government conceded to the Company not only "the powers vested in them by the Charter," but added the licence to trade over the whole of British North America. This licence was renewed in 1838 for a further twenty-one years.
In 1868, the Rupert's Land Act paved the way for the surrender of most of Hudson's Bay Company's lands to the British Crown and their subsequent transfer to Canada. The Deed of Surrender outlined the terms HBC was to receive from the Canadian government in return. It was signed in November 1869 and the transfer to Canada followed on July 15, 1870 - effectively ending the Charter's monopoly almost exactly 200 years after the initial grant.
The original Royal Charter is preserved in the Company's Corporate Head Office in Toronto and is both the premier artefact and primary record of the Company.
For information about the restoration of the Charter, click here.